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Sharks look to break through at home, deny Predators

by Eric Goodman
PREDATORS (41-21-7) at SHARKS (34-25-10)


Last 10:
Nashville 7-2-1; San Jose 2-5-3

Season series: This is the fourth and final game of the regular season between these clubs. The Predators own a 2-1-0 record so far, and can complete the road sweep at HP Pavilion with a win on Thursday. Nashville is 2-0-1 in its last three visits to San Jose.

Big Story: It's the tale of two clubs heading in seemingly opposite directions as Nashville will try to capture its first Central Division title in franchise history, while San Jose remains in a fight for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. The Preds will also aim to extend their current winning streak to four games, while the Sharks have dropped six of their last seven and are desperate for the two crucial points at stake Thursday.

Team Scope:

While many of the NHL's better-known clubs like the Rangers, Red Wings and even the Blues have been grabbing most of the headlines this season, the Predators have been quietly racking up the wins and inching their way up the standings. Nashville's offensive corps led by Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn, Patric Hornqvist and Martin Erat might not exactly be household names, but they are helping to get the job done anyway.

The Preds began their four-game road trip through most of the Pacific Division with a 5-4 shootout win at Phoenix on Monday. Sergei Kostitsyn sealed it for Nashville with the only goal tallied in the shootout, which helped ease the fact that the Predators gave up a 4-2 lead in the third period.

"It was a little disappointing to give up the two late goals, but we managed to get two points and that's the important thing," said goalie Pekka Rinne, who made 31 saves against the Coyotes for his League-leading 39th win.

With six of its next seven games being played at home, it would appear as if San Jose is in a great position to start moving up the West standings. But HP Pavilion hasn't been a place where victories have come easy as the Sharks will try to avoid a season-high fourth straight home loss when Nashville comes to town.

If San Jose is going to turn it around, it will need to kick the offense into high gear as the team is averaging just 1.57 goals per game throughout the month of March and hasn't scored a power-play goal in its last four home games. And while the Sharks did grab a point with an overtime loss in their most recent game against Calgary this past Tuesday, their coach was not too concerned with the silver lining.

"One point is better than none but that wasn't what our goal was, so we're disappointed leaving," coach Todd McLellan told reporters.

Who's Hot:
Martin Erat has 3 goals and 3 assists over his last five games for Nashville. … The Sharks' Logan Couture has 3 goals and an assist over his last five games played.

Injury Report:
Nashville defenseman Kevin Klein (upper body) hasn't played since Feb. 25 and remains listed as day-to-day. … Forwards Tommy Wingels (upper body) and Martin Havlat (out since Dec. 17 with hamstring injury) are the only Sharks currently sidelined.

Stat Pack: The Preds can be a very dangerous team in the playoffs considering that only four of their total 41 wins so far this season came via the shootout. Nashville ranks third in the NHL this season in non-shootout victories.

Puck Drop: With the Sharks maintaining the final playoff spot in the West as of Wednesday, it's important that they grab at least a point in nearly every game through their last push of the season. While a substantial winning streak during its long homestretch would be preferable, the team will take anything it can get at this point.

"We're going through a tough stretch, so to get some points any way we can is good," Couture said after the overtime loss to the Flames.


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